he new post-Covid geopolitical normal will feature a much weaker European Union than could ever have been foreseen before the crisis. Brexit, damaging to all concerned as it has undoubtedly proved, looks a mere distraction set against the impact of the coronavirus. The public health test-and-trace response, and death rates, in some EU member states, notably Germany, have been enviable, and many others have scored successes of their own, not least Belgium and the Netherlands, such important centres for vaccine production.
Yet throughout the year of turmoil, the European Union’s efforts to coordinate national responses have been either ineffective or downright disastrous. From the get go, when individual countries rushed to close borders and ban exports of protective equipment, ventilators and treatments, the authorities in Brussels have been bystanders. When hard-pressed nations such as Italy sought financial assistance, they were scorned by Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. She was chosen to run the EU, it is rumoured, because Paris and Berlin favoured a weaker style of leadership in Brussels. They should be more careful what they wish for. Friends of the EU should take no pleasure in its travails, because Britain is no unconquerable island so far as the virus is concerned, but equally should send any illusions about the recent performance of the EU and its agencies. The answer may be “more Europe”, as President Macron used to say, or an end to integration, but the problem of EU competence (in both senses) over public health is plain.
Right now, the European Union finds itself in the embarrassing position of watching the British speed way ahead in the vaccination race (by fair means or foul), and in the more humiliating position of having to turn to Russia, of all places, for help. A third Covid wave is hitting parts of Europe hard. France is the latest to fall back into lockdown, even if Macron has tried to rebadge it as a “third way”. Hence the urgent need for vaccines in what the president calls “a race against time” for his country.